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Suppose your cruise ship is visiting Rijeka, Croatia. In that case, you’ll want to walk to Trsat Castle during your time in this historic city. The Trsat Castle on a high hill is absolutely possible to walk to, even if your ship isn’t in port for a long time. Keep reading to learn how to walk to Trsat Castle on a shore excursion. Additionally, learn how to see some of the more popular sights in Rijeka’s city center.
About Rijeka, Croatia
Rijeka is a coastal city in western Croatia. Part of Rijeka’s appeal lies in its multicultural history. It was founded by the Romans as part of the province of Dalmatia. Since then, everyone wanted a piece of this vital trading center. Some of the major player include the Holy Roman Empire, Venetians, Turks, the Hapsburg Empire, Hungary, and Italy. Rijeka is now the third-largest city in Croatia.
Visiting Rijeka by Cruise Ship
If you think about cruising to Croatia, the cities of Split and Dubrovnik probably come to mind. But Rijeka, designated a European Capital of Culture in 2020, appears on an increasing number of Mediterranean and Adriatic itineraries and is well worth a stop.
Just to put some numbers on it, sources say that in 2018, 11 cruise ships with 10,913 passengers called at the Port of Rijeka, and in 2024, about 16 ships and 27,000 cruise ship tourists are expected.
So, while the city is gaining in popularity, it’s unlikely to be overwhelmed with tourists, which is excellent news for anyone wanting to walk to Trsat Castle.
About the Trsat Castle
The Trsat Castle sits on a hill outside of Rijeka and is visible from many points in the city. It’s easy to see why this spot was a strategic lookout even before the Romans arrived. Today’s Trsat Castle was built in the 13th century by the Frankopans, one of Croatia’s most famous noble families. Accounts differ, but it appears that the family’s properties were confiscated by the Hapsburgs after they fell out of favor. The Castle languished and was already deteriorating when a powerful earthquake in 1750 caused even more damage.
Restoration of the Castle occurred thanks to an unlikely circumstance: its purchase by Irishman Laval Nugent von Westmeath. A career soldier, Nugent fought for the Austrian Empire and had many notable victories. He became enamored with the Croatian landscape after leading soldiers in a campaign against French forces occupying the country. He later returned to the area, buying up property, collecting ancient art, and restoring castles, including Trsat in Rijeka.
If that description sounds intriguing, let’s get to the point of this post: a walk to Trsat Castle.
The Walk to Trsat Castle
To get to the Castle, you’ll have to walk through or around Rijeka’s city center and then head uphill. First, note that your ship is likely docked on the Molo Longo, a 5600-foot (1707-m) breakwater offering an exceptional city view. From the Rijeka cruise port, it’s only a few minutes walk into the city. You can stop and see a few sights on the way to Trsat or wait until you return from the Castle to wander Rijeka’s streets. Some sights I found worth seeing are described under the City Center subheading below.
Getting to Trsat Castle
The Castle is visible almost everywhere in the city, so if you head in its general direction, you’ll be close to finding your way up. On the day of my visit, the Rijeka Tourist Board handed out city maps at the port. They also provided an informative brochure with additional map information entitled “First time in Rijeka.” These maps help you navigate to the locations described here. Your favorite phone map app will also be useful.
Should you want to visit the Castle without walking, city bus numbers 2 and 8 stop near the Castle.
To begin the climb, make your way to the northwest corner of Titov Trg (Tito’s Square) and the start of the Petar Kružić stairway. I didn’t find this area to be a “typical” square, but it is a small area that appears bounded by busy streets, with the Rječina River running through it.
From this spot, allow about 20 minutes to walk to the Castle and expect an elevation gain of about 368 feet (112 m) over about 0.6 miles (1 km).
But before you begin, take a quick detour along Školjić Street, which forms a sort of boundary of the square, until you get to the bridge over the river. The sheer amount of water cascading toward the bay and the beautiful blue-green hue make it mesmerizing.
The Petar Kružić Stairway Route
Back to the Petar Kružić stairway, look for an arched entryway part of a small baroque chapel; a relief of Madonna and Child is directly above the arch. The stairway has 538 steps and leads almost directly to the Castle. Its original purpose was to allow churchgoers to get to the Our Lady of Trsat Sanctuary (Church of Mary of God of Trsat). This pilgrimage destination will be described below.
Construction of the staircase started in 1531, but it’s modern, wide, and sturdy. The steps are spaced at a good pitch, and I didn’t encounter any dicey sections; however, the smooth steps looked like they might become slippery if wet.
The Ulica Franje Račkoga (Franje Račkoga Street) Route
Most descriptions of the route to Trsat Castle only discuss the Petar Kružić stairway. But walking up the sidewalk on Ulica Franje Račkoga (Franje Račkoga Street) next to the staircase entrance also got us to the Castle. In addition, this path had the advantage of amazing views of the rushing river, the city, and Kvarner Bay, which are not visible on most of the stairway route.
Therefore, I suggest you go up to the Castle one way and then come down the other for maximum sightseeing.
Navigating to the castle grounds at the top is easy with either route. Before going further, I’ll point out that there is no admission fee to get into Trsat Castle. It’s totally free to walk in!
Things to see at Trsat Castle
A watchtower, the Roman Tower, looms overhead as you arrive. Once inside the castle grounds, you can climb up this watchtower to see the view from the top. Every tourist in Rijeka takes the same picture of the city from here! You will, too, because it’s genuinely spectacular.
Other towers to view and explore include the frontal tower, an elliptical tower, and the old entrance tower adjacent to an old drawbridge entrance.
Notable Sights at Trsat Castle
The Castle grounds have a few surprising features. One was a small building that looked like a Greek or Roman Temple. I learned it was built by the Castle’s restorer, Laval Nugent, and was a mausoleum for the Nugent family. The inscription Mir Junaka (“Heroes’ Peace”) graces the top. Also, it’s guarded by two “Trsat dragon” sculptures created by Anton Dominick Ritter von Fernkorn. These creatures have rooster heads, dragon bodies, and snake tails.
Another surprise was an outdoor cafe, almost right next to the mausoleum. Enjoy a coffee or an adult beverage, not in a sterile setting off to the side of the main attraction, but smack dab in the middle of castle ruins from the 13th century.
Outside the Castle in the adjacent and lovely Nugent Park, there is a viewpoint with an excellent view of the elliptical tower, a Venetian lion sculpture, said to be one of Nugent’s war trophies, and a building that was once Nugent’s house.
Outside the Trsat Castle: Our Lady of Trsat Sanctuary
Adjacent to the castle site is the Franciscan Church and Monastery of Our Lady of Trsat. You most likely saw the tall steeple of this church while at Trsat Castle. As alluded to above, this church has a long history as a pilgrimage destination. It was founded in the late 13th century, and the tall steeple and large lawn make it particularly picturesque. The baroque church interior contains elegant chapels, tasteful stained glass panels, and a painting of Mary holding Jesus, said to have been painted by St. Luke and given to the shrine in 1367 by Pope Urban V.
Returning to the Rijeka City Center After Visiting Trsat Castle
After you visit Trsat Castle and the church, retrace your steps or take the alternate route back to the Rijeka city center. Following are a few sights in Rijeka that I found particularly intriguing and worth finding as you make your way back to the port.
First, a visit to the Old Town of Rijeka wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the St. Vitus’ Cathedral, started in 1638. It’s notable for having an enormous rotunda footprint.
Next, look for the Leaning Tower, a medieval bell tower built in 1377 for the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It might be hard to notice, but the bell tower leans almost 40 centimeters from vertical.
The distinctive yellow spire of the City Tower is located at the eastern end of Korzo, the city’s main pedestrian avenue. Built over Rijeka’s original medieval gateway, the tower dates from the late 1700s, while the clock was added around 100 years later. Notice the baroque style of the City Tower and other old city buildings: it’s the hallmark of the rebuilding after the 1750 earthquake.
After viewing the City Tower (and noting the time!), continue down the Korzo. With lots of shopping and numerous restaurants, bars, and cafes, it’s an enjoyable place to explore after your trip to Trsat Castle and stop to grab a bite to eat or drink.
For a little bit of culture, admire the beautiful architecture of the historic Ivan Zajc Croatian National Theatre (Verdijeva ul. bb), set on a lovely square. Open for performances since 1885, this elegant building still hosts opera, ballet, and theater performances.
Heading toward the port, look for the outdoor part of the Rijeka City Market (Ul. Vatroslava Lisinskog), which nearly overflows with mounds of fresh produce and local products like honey, cheese, and olive oil. Meat, fish, and dairy products are available indoors in nearby buildings.
It’s a short distance from the Market to the port and the Molo Longo breakwater, where your ship is likely docked.
Where to Stay in Rijeka
If you’re in Rijeka on a cruise, you won’t need to stay in the city overnight. Nonetheless, I’ll include options for lodging for completeness. You may return to Rijeka by another means of transportation and spend additional time exploring this multicultural stop.
Pin it for Later: Rijeka and Trsat Castle
Here are some pins for your Pinterest Boards.
Other One-Day Walking Routes-Perfect for Shore Excursions
If you are cruising and only have one day in port, consider this other walking-focused route as a shore excursion:
Final Thoughts on Walking to Trsat Castle
The journey to Trsat Castle is a fun and rewarding way to spend a day in Rijeka, Croatia. With incredible views and a glimpse into history, walking to Trsat Castle unveils the beauty of Rijeka in a way that no other mode of transportation can. So put on your walking shoes, explore Rijeka’s city center, and visit Trsat Castle after a short climb.